When I’m old, how much would I be willing to pay to travel back in time and relive the moment that I’m experiencing right now?

MUNEEB ALI is the co-founder of Blockstack, a new decentralized Internet where users control their data, and apps run without remote servers. Muneeb received his PhD in computer science from Princeton University, specializing in distributed systems. He went through Y Combinator—considered the Harvard/SEAL Team Six of startup incubators—and has worked in the systems research group at Princeton and PlanetLab, the world’s first and largest cloud computing test bed. Muneeb was awarded a J. William Fulbright fellowship and gives guest lectures on cloud computing at Princeton. He has built a broad range of production systems and published research papers with more than 900 citations.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?
I took a loan of around $1,000 USD (in Pakistani rupees) to self-fund a three- month unpaid researcher gig in Sweden. There were no high-quality research opportunities in Pakistan, and I had to get out of the country and work with top researchers in my field in Europe or the U.S. to make progress toward my goals. The money wasn’t enough to survive in Sweden for three months, but I made it work by eating once a day and living on the free coffee and snacks available at the office. That investment opened the door to my PhD admission at Princeton, which opened the door to my current startup, which has raised $5.1 million in venture funding so far.

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Asking myself the question, “When I’m old, how much would I be willing to pay to travel back in time and relive the moment that I’m experiencing right now?”

If that moment is something like rocking my six-month-old daughter to sleep while she hugs me, then the answer is anything: I’d literally pay all the money I’d have in the bank at, say, age 70 to get a chance to relive that moment. This simple question just puts things in perspective and makes you grateful for the experience you’re having right now versus being lost in thoughts about the past or the future.

In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to? What new realizations and/or approaches helped?
For me, the realization was that I can add more value by going deep on a few things rather than engaging with a broad set of activities. I’m a startup founder, and there is always something or other to do. Here are some approaches that have helped:

I started saying no to all external meeting requests as a rule of thumb. External meetings should be initiated by me (doesn’t happen that often) and not initiated by others.
Saying no to all involvements outside of my startup, such as being an advisor to some other startup or project, investing in or trading some cryptocurrency where I have domain expertise, etc. There is only one job/role that I can think about. No exceptions.
Letting other people on my team deal with external invitations, calls, meetings, events, etc. Build strong connections with your team and stay updated on things through them. In other words, the team members are a filter for all the invitations and distractions. Important stuff has a way of bubbling up and you won’t miss out.

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